This post was originally published in June 2019. In October 2022, it was updated to reflect changing trends in recycling markets.
By now you’ve probably heard the rumors or seen the reports. “Don’t bother recycling,” they say. “It’s only going into the landfill,” they say. But let’s take a closer look at what’s going on with recycling.
Did you know recycling is a for-profit industry? This means the milk jugs, Amazon boxes or wine bottles that you sort for curbside pickup or recycling center drop-off are actually commodities, not trash. The recycling market is helmed by supply and demand, just like any other business, and the secret ingredients for the market to run well are users and consumers.
In other words, there has to be a market for the materials that you and I take to recycling centers, and on the other end of the register, businesses need consumers who are willing to purchase products made from those recycled materials. The money from these transactions is what keeps the recycling companies in business. It's all cyclical!
What about recycling in the Ozarks?
Our recyclers are local. They sell domestically and offer high quality materials to processors and end users. The majority of our recycling companies have been in business for a long time and maintain long-standing relationships with a number of domestic markets. They have high quality standards, meaning the materials they offer have a low percentage of contaminates. Springfield is positioned as a regional recycling hub, and most items can be recycled somewhere within the area. Also, when you recycle here, you are supporting local businesses.
How have changes to the Chinese recycling market affected recycling in the US?
The primary impact has been on the west coast, where a lot of recycled materials were being shipped to China. Domestically, some markets are down but are expected to improve. Remember, recycling is a commodity, and prices will fluctuate just like other commodities.
Ultimately, we do need to be more conscientious about how we recycle. Our items need to be cleaner and we need to make sure bales of materials are free of contaminants.
How can I recycle better?
Use the City of Springfield's Waste Wizard, a free, searchable database with disposal options for hundreds of common items.
Don’t put plastic grocery bags in recycling bins. Recycle separately at appropriate locations, such as Walmart stores.
Make sure food packaging is free of food residue: Rinse out leftover liquids from beverage bottles, and don't leave crumbs in food containers.
Most recyclers can't collect glass from your curbside bins, but the City of Springfield collects glass at all three recycling centers.
When in doubt, ask your recycling service provider or facility. Don’t throw something you are unsure of into a recycling bin.
Styrofoam food containers are not recyclable. Some businesses may take it for re-use; just call and ask.
Don’t stop recycling. Help our local businesses provide high quality materials by learning and following guidelines for clean and appropriate materials.